As the 1930's rolled on, film makers became more progressive when it came to subject matter, dialogue and characters. As, the use of nudity and profanities became almost common place, directors and producers had no issue including depictions of gay and lesbian characters in movies. However, the code makers retorted with this inclusion:
The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…
The silent era experimented with a few examples of homosexual or inferences of played for humour or something more sinister:
One of the earliest films 'Dickson Experimental Sound Film' from 1895 which is a short clip of two men dancing while Dickson plays 'Song of a Cabin Boy'.
Another example of gay inferences used for humour is the conversial Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle actor who appeared dressed in female clothing in several films. Here are pictures from the 1917 film 'T
he Butcher Boy':
Lesbian characters in silent films were less readily shown. They were normally depicted as comedic crossdressers or strange older women that were generally killed at the end of the picture. Alternatively, Alice Roberts character in the 1929 German film 'Pandora's Box' starring Louise Brooks is projected as a companion or friend to Brook's character with her deeper feelings infered rather than plainly stated.
Talking pictures depicted similar versions of homosexual characters as the silent era with several surprising variations sneaking into some Precode films. Gay men were, akin to the Arbuckle years, used for humour and a diversion from the major, more serious plot.
Call her Savage (1932)
And the most overt use of homosexuality for humour this clip from 'Wonderbar' (1934). In it a man breaks up a couple dancing and asks whether he can dance with on of the couple. The women assumes he means her, but the man grabs the other man and they start dancing. The clip pans to an onlooker who comments, "boys will be boys, whooo."
Lesbian characters are treated more solemnly, with less obvious examples available.
The masculine inmate in 'Ladies They Talk About' (1933)
Or, strangely the lesbian dance scene in Cecil B. Demille's 'Sign of the Cross' (1932)
The great Marlene in Morocco (1930)
And, the most fabulous bisexual character of the Precode era, Greta Garbo in 'Queen Christina' (1933). Garbo plays Christina, a historically known bisexual, who kisses her main lady in waiting on the lips and discussed taking her to the country, alone, for a few days.
Blink and you will miss it :)